Part of why inner peace is so elusive is because we expect it to feel more peaceful than it really does.
And if we expect peace in this age to always feel peaceful, we’ll rarely experience real peace — the kind that meets reality and adversity head-on. If we never feel any tension, urgency, or desperation in our peace, then we’re probably experiencing something other than true inner peace. It might feel peaceful for the moment, but it isn’t the peace our souls need.
One key to experiencing real peace, for now, is expecting it to come in and through adversity. After all, inner peace would not be very precious or remarkable if we experienced it only when everything was predictable, comfortable, and safe. God wants our inner peace to disturb the world, leaving others wondering how we could possibly enjoy emotional stability and rest in the midst of what we’re suffering or enduring.
The peace God pours out by his Spirit does give us space and freedom to rest, but it also inspires us to live boldly and courageously for him at the front lines of the fiercest battles and in the most challenging circumstances we face. God quiets our souls — and he sets them on fire.
When an ancient city was at war or under siege, the watchmen stood at the walls to watch for the enemy. While others rested, they had to be vigilant at all times, staring into the dark, searching for any sign of threat or danger. If they fell asleep, or were distracted, and the enemy attacked, the city would be at great risk. The lives of their friends and family hung on their ability to stay awake and alert.
Watchmen surveyed as much as they could see in the pitch-black night, not sure where to look or what to expect. They watched and watched for hours, feeling afraid and exhausted. Until morning broke, and the sun brought everything to light, finally relieving them of their post.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning. (Psalm 130:5–6)
What does inner peace in God look like in a broken world? Like a war-torn soldier, staring into darkness, aware of enemy threats on every side, desperate for sunrise. Not doubting or despairing, but genuinely desperate.
Yet waiting doesn’t only look like war. The very next psalm sings,
I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me. (Psalm 131:2)
Why a weaned child? Because he is no longer restless for milk in his mother’s arms. This is not a picture of desperation, but of contentment, security, and rest. God wired children to run to Mom, and rest sweetly in her arms, to give us a glimpse of a peace that surpasses all understanding. Inner peace often eludes us, but we recognize it when a 2-year-old lies peacefully on his mother’s chest.
The weaned child reminds every child of God, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7).
What does peace in God look like? Like an innocent and unassuming child, laying in mother’s arms, not afraid of anything, and not wanting to be anywhere else.
Content and Desperate
True peace says, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice” (Psalm 130:1–2). And it also says, “I have calmed and quieted my soul” (Psalm 131:2). Desperation mingled with confidence. Stability alongside restlessness. That is the paradox of authentic peace — of true inner peace in the chaos of our world, steady in Jesus Christ and empowered by his Spirit.
“You then, my child” — like a weaned child with his mother — “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. . . . Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:1, 3–4) — more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. Wait contentedly like a child. Cling desperately like a soldier.
We love to hear Jesus say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). And yet, for now, our rest is restless. We are content and desperate. Because our inner peace is not the product of peace around us, it holds even in the fiercest storms. But because the surrounding storms are fierce, our peace must also be vigilant and relentless.
The Sun Will Rise
One day, the peace we experience — like a watchman at sunrise or a weaned child with its mother — will finally fill the earth around us. It won’t be in tension with our world anymore; it will be our world. What God works in us today, he will work in the new heavens and new earth. As we were born again (1 Peter 1:3), so the world will be born again (Matthew 19:28). As he made us into a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), he will make the whole creation new (Revelation 21:1). The creation waits for the freedom and glory (and peace) God has already given us (Romans 8:19–21), but the creation will have its own freedom and glory and peace.
One day the war will be over, and the inner peace we experience through faith will be unleashed on our world. Our peace will flavor every inch and minute of eternity, and it will reign unchallenged and uninhibited — no mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore. The sun will finally rise — exposing and removing every fear and anxiety that threatens our peace now — and it will never set again.
Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating (2017). He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have a son and live in Minneapolis.
A version of this article previously appeared on the Desiring God website under the headline, “The War for Inner Peace: How Desperation Fuels Contentment”
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